US Company Burned by China Web Filter Plans Rival Product

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A U.S. company whose software code was allegedly stolen in China by a controversial, government-backed Internet filtering program will hit back by launching a rival product for a low price in China, the company said late Sunday.

Solid Oak Software, which has said its code was copied in a program that China ordered be bundled with all new PCs, is exploring ways to offer its own Web filter for free or at a very low price in China, company President Brian Milburn, said in an e-mail. The Solid Oak program, called CyberSitter and targeted at parents, will be offered in languages including Chinese in a version due out next month.

A Chinese version of the product would compete with Green Dam Youth Escort, the program that Solid Oak says copied its code and that China originally ordered PC makers to include with all new computers sold in the country from July this year. The Chinese government had paid the program's developers to allow all PC buyers to use the software for free for one year. But under heavy pressure from foreign PC makers and the U.S. government, China indefinitely postponed the mandate just hours before it was set to take effect.

Major PC makers including Lenovo and Acer began bundling Green Dam with new PCs until this month. The program, which China said was meant to protect children from online pornography, was also found to block politically sensitive material such as negative references to a former Chinese president.

The program also used blacklists apparently lifted from Solid Oak's software, according to the company and a group of U.S. researchers. One file found in the Chinese program contained an encrypted version of a years-old Solid Oak news bulletin, according to the researchers.

Solid Oak, which is based in Santa Barbara, California, is preparing legal action against PC makers that shipped Green Dam, though an update to the program in June removed some of the allegedly infringing elements.

Green Dam came under fire for concerns about system stability in addition to user privacy and freedom of speech. One Beijing high school recently removed the program from its computers after finding that it conflicted with software used for grading and attendance tracking.

Green Dam "is a conglomeration of whatever components [the developers] managed to steal ... or otherwise appropriate from various sources, and duct tape together in the form of an alleged piece of software," Milburn wrote in his e-mail.

"They should be utterly humiliated, not just because they stole much of the core functionality, but even more so because they intentionally inflicted such a miserable product on a population of innocent computer users," Milburn wrote.

Bryan Zhang, general manager of Jinhui Computer System Engineering, one of the designers of the Chinese software, declined to comment on the allegations of code theft.

The new Solid Oak product will have a Chinese user interface available and a filtering function that the company reworked after much of its old proprietary code appeared online. The filtering will be entirely URL-based, avoiding the need to translate keywords into Chinese.

"We are working on a way to release it for free. That is the ultimate goal," company spokeswoman Jenna DiPasquale said in an e-mail.

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